Saturday, April 16, 2011

Vacuum Salesman Turned British Agent

Mr. Wormold, an English merchant, has run a vacuum cleaner shop in Havana for some 15 years.  (This is pre-Castro, pre-Communist Cuba.)  His two worries are his 17-year-old daughter, whose beauty has lured in a dangerous police captain, and his financial struggles--customers aren't too keen on the new "Atomic" vacuum, given the connotations of "atomic" in 1958.  (This anticipates the Cuban Missile Crisis.)  But when a man with the British secret service recruits him as an agent, over his mild protests, Wormold begins to see a way to provide a dowry for his daughter.  Seeing spying as nothing more than a game, he begins to turn in receipts, recruit agents on paper (though they are unaware they've switched careers), and send in elaborate drawings of installations that don't exist.  The money is good until his "agents" begin to die.

Our Man in Havana, written by Graham Greene, is a novel of both intrigue and subtle humor.  I've read two other novels by Greene, The Power and the Glory and A Burnt-Out Case, and I've enjoyed all three.  Quality literature.

First line (you will forgive me if I don't print the whole line): "That _____ going down the street," said Dr. Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, "he reminds me of you, Mr. Wormold." 

Last line: "There are three of us," Wormold said, and she realised the chief problem of their future--that he would never be quite mad enough.

My rating (out of 5): 4 1/2

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